Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Del Rosario should not be praised; he should be chastised

Acting Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who was sworn in only a few days ago, did not act as a responsible official of the Republic when he entered Tripoli last Sunday to lead a convoy of 40 vehicles loaded with Filipinos across the deserts of troubled Libya, to the safety of neighboring Tunisia. Sure it sounded romantic---like a scene straight from a John Le Carre spy novel---and he doubtless meant well. He probably wanted to inspire people and show the stranded OFWs that government cared. But unfortunately, the swashbuckling action of the country's top diplomat, an aging fomer business and civic leader earlier appointed Philippine Ambassador to Washington in the Arroyo administration, was also quite irresponsible.

Theatrical, reckless and irresponsible
 Had anything happened to the 72-year old Secretary while on the six-hour journey from Tripoli to Djerba on the Tunisian border, such as being hostaged by pro-Khadaffi forces or being killed by a bomb, it would have created a far greater problem for the Philippines than the extrication of the thousands of Filipinos from Libya and other troubled countries. The rescue of such a high-ranking official  would have been top priority, completely sidelining the massive rescue effort of our OFWs.

 After he got back to Manila with the OFWs in tow aboard a chartered plane from Dubai Del Rosario was praised by sycophants of this administration, as well as by Sen. Lito Lapid, as a hero and a man of courage for what he himself had branded his  “Smile Diplomacy.” But in my book he was being theatrical, reckless and  irresponsible, not only because the situation in Libya was and still is very much  fraught with dangers from conflicting forces, but also because of the danger the exhausting trip could pose to his health. I’m sure many citizens feel the same way. 

 Del Rosario's reckless misadventure in the Libyan desert should not be held up as  a model of official action in the diplomatic service.

Warnings and memos ignored

Sources within the DFA say that prior to Del Rosario’s departure, memos flew thick and fast from various offices within, and verbal opinions were aired by his colleagues (and even his wife), discouraging him from going to Tripoli over land.  The vast expanse of desert from the Tunisian border town to the Libyan capital normally would take only three hours by car, but at that time and up to now, it's littered with forces identified either with or against the Libyan strongman; there were myriad checkpoints and anything could have happened to the small party of Del Rosario as it crossed from Djerba to Tripoli, which included Undersecretary Esteban Conejos, Ambassador to Tripoli  Alejandrino  Vicente  (whom I understand tried vigorously to discourage the Secretary from crossing), a local hire of the Tripoli embassy and a local driver.

After a briefing by Ambassador Vicente at Djerba, the small party proceeded to Tripoli when the prudent thing for Del Rosario should have been to stay at Djerba and just let Undersecretary Conejos, who is a veteran of many crisis situations in the Middle East and Africa and a much younger man, handle the grueling evacuation. Del Rosario could have been far more useful at Djerba, where he could get help in case the Philippine convoy ran into snags.

Theatrics to defuse criticisms of lack of preparedness

The return from Tripoli to Djerba which Del Rosario led involved some 400 Filipinos in 40 vehicles, and this time the normally three-hour crossing took six hours due to innumerable checkpoints by pro- and anti-Khadaffi forces, problems such as running out of fuel, being abandoned by drivers fearful of the uncertainty ahead and avoiding landmines. Anywhere in that long travel, more serious complications could have arisen, and help and rescue from our Third World country would have been much delayed.  To make matters worse, our Foreign Secretary was in that convoy!

I can only surmise that Secretary del Rosario went theatrical and "OA" to help defuse  criticisms against the Noynoy government for partying too much in those four days of commemoration of Edsa 1, instead of concentrating on rescuing the tens of thousands of OFWs scattered in various troubled spots and feeling confused, lost and abandoned. Criticisms have surfaced about the lack of a rescue program for the OFWs and how delayed the Aquino government response was, when the crisis in the Middle East, that started in Egypt, had already been brewing for weeks. 

Contrast is now being made to the instant response of the Arroyo government to various overseas crises in the past.

An administration of symbols

Come to think of it, however, the symbolic gesture of Secretary Del Rosario in leading the Pinoy convoy out of Libya seems to be very much in keeping with the predilection of the Aquino administration for symbolisms. Note the flooding of giant yellow ribbons at the Edsa 1 commemoration, which were obviously quite expensive; note too, how the President chose to fire broadsides at the Marcos and Arroyo regimes in his Edsa speech, when the more meaningful gesture would have been to call for unity and lay down a vision for the next five years.  This administration is too reliant on  symbols, but too short on substance.

House Justice committee votes for Merci's impeachment

The overwhelming majority of the 55-member Justice Committee of the House of Representatives voted yesterday to proceed with the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez despite the fact that her motion for reconsideration before the Supreme Court has not yet been ruled upon with finality. Last week the High Court lifted the status quo ante on impeachment moves filed before the committee five months back, but it asked the committee to await its pending final ruling on Gutierrez’s motion for reconsideration.

 Apparently, however, sentiments are already running high in the committee, and the members went ahead with the vote on the form and substance of the impeachment complaint, ignoring both the High Court and Gutierrez’s plea for final judgment from the Court.  Voting was 41-12 and 42-12 on the separate complaints filed by the militant groups Akbayan and Bayan.

Merci Gutierrez a fighter

  A vote of one-third of the 283-member House of Representatives, or 96 votes, would be sufficient to send the impeachment complaint to the Senate for trial. Given the composition of that smaller chamber, it’s easy to see that Merceditas Gutierrez will be in for rough times.  There’s a suggestion from various quarters for her to resign at this stage, similar to what the late President Richard Nixon did in the ‘70s on the Watergate issue, rather than face what could be certain conviction by the US Senate. But Merci has repeatedly said she will fight to the end as she is certain of her innocence of the charges against her; from what I know about my fellow Holy Ghost College alumna, she is a fighter.

                                           Real target is GMA

But a veteran legislator recently told this blogger that it’s actually not Merci Gutierrez who is the real target of this vengeful government;  it’s Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. As the legislator told me, if they get Merci, they’ll go for GMA. 

Now impeachments are always messy and could only spell turmoil for our country at a time in world history when so many nations are in chaos; huge problems abroad could directly affect our country. Should the lust for Merci's blood be  our people's preoccupation at the moment?  Shouldn’t we be addressing instead the re-entry of tens or thousands of our displaced OFWs into our non-elastic labor force? Shouldn’t we instead worry about our source of oil, our food security and other gut issues? 

                                      For comments and reactions,
                                      pls email polbits@yahoo.com


  1. I expected this type of article from you. This blog has only one objective. To praise your husband and attack everybody else.

    What would be the reasons to attack an honorable public servant who took it upon himself to be pro active and assist personally the stranded OFWs in Libya? Would your late husband have done something similar? I am sure we both know the answer to that. He was never that kind of public servant...placing his constituents above his own interests.

    Maybe you choose to make a mockery of Del Rosario's decision to be hands on since he was a former GMA appointee? Or possibly, he sits on the board of Philex Mining where your husband is accused of pocketing millions?

    In any case, it was not symbolic. He accomplished more in three days than any one in our government, past or present. We need more selfless people like him and LESS people like YOU.

    It is no wonder no one reads your blog or even bothers to comment. The Philippine Daily Inquirer's decision to fire you was a good one. You should just stick to writing "theatrical" blogs, instead of throwing your vomit on the great deeds of others.

    By the way, you may want to rename your blog.

    Thelmo Cunanan, the best ambassador, general and husband around. Everyone else doesn't measure up.

  2. My apologies for saying this Ms. Cunanan. But if you can't see the good in Secretary del Rosario's actions, your cynicism is grossly despicable and your analysis is atrociously convoluted. "Had anything happened" but nothing happened! Sec del Rosario being the consummate international diplomat with strong ties to the Power Capital of the World in Washington DC, would have thought of ways to mitigate these risks. Either, he knew who to call and/or he would be able to negotiate his way out of it. Perhaps, you should do more research by calling him JUST a "local businessman". Here are just some of his international business credentials: Board Director of First Pacific Hongkong, Board Director of Indofood Indonesia, Director of Asian Society in New York, member of the Board of Governor's of the International Graduate University in Washington DC, Xavier High School Hall of Fame, whose famous graduates include the US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Donald Cook, Medal of Honor Recipient US Marine Corps. In the 1990's, he was the CEO of Pacific Resources Export Limited, the international buying agent of Walmart and personally negotiated the agreement with Sam Walton in Bentonville Arkansaw. So, what's so "local" about his credentials and accomplishments? This is the first time I read your blog and the last time I will comment.